The Three Doctors (Doctor Who)

A photo of the three actors who have played The Doctor
Image copyright by BBC.

Seeing as how it took me a month or so to watch this story, I’ll go ahead and review it by itself. Besides, it was an anniversary special, so it was rather important.

The Three Doctors

Who Wrote It: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About: Mysterious antimatter creatures appear on Earth and start abducting whatever they touch. The Time Lords realize this is connected to a power drain in their own systems. Left with no other Time Lord to solve the mystery, they call on The Doctor—ALL of them!

The Three Doctors is a great story for two reasons. First, it involves all three of the actors who had played The Doctor up to this point, and second, the TARDIS is finally repaired and The Doctor has his memory of time/space travel restored. The Doctor finishes this episode a free man. He is no longer imprisoned on Earth.

It was wonderful to see Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell again. Sadly, the latter was in ill health, so his involvement was somewhat minimal. Troughton, however, was on top of his game. Watching this story made me realize how much I missed both actors. It also reminded me why I enjoy the character that the Seventh Doctor (skipping ahead a bit) became: a wise and manipulative figure who often disguised himself as a fool. The moments where the Second Doctor began prattling on about his recorder just to test the limits of Omega’s emotional control were classic misdirection. I was reminded of Tomb of the Cybermen, when The Doctor followed Klieg along the control panel and covertly fixed his miscalculations.

This is also the heaviest Time Lord mythology episode so far. We learn that the power used by the Time Lords is from a black hole, and this black hole was created at the expense of Omega’s life (Omega being one of the great Time Lords of the past). The mythology is being filled in, and the Time Lords are becoming less mysterious. They are becoming beings that can be quantified and known, which can serve to strip away their mysterious and godlike qualities. Of course, we have yet to see the story in which Robert Holmes deals the final deathblow to the enigmatic Time Lords.

By the end of the story, we learn that Omega doesn’t quite exist any longer. For centuries he was kept alive by sheer will, and it was this will that allowed him to survive in a universe of antimatter. His will kept him sustained as he ached for revenge against the Time Lords. By the time the Doctors met him, Omega’s physical body had been so destroyed by the technology he developed to bridge the matter and antimatter universes that his will was all that remained. This actually reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. This book takes on the concept of the afterlife and posits that the actions and attitudes we take in life make us into who we are. The Christian concept of sin, therefore, becomes the impulses we give in to which change us, making us less human and more impulse. If we allow our anger to rule us, we eventually become anger. If we allow our addictions to rule us, we become that addiction. In the case of The Three Doctors, Omega ceased being a physical creature and became a disembodied spirit of the will for revenge.

With the end of this story comes the end of The Doctor’s exile. Jon Pertwee’s tenth season has begun, and I’m excited to see where we go from here.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Doctor Who – Season 9

Source: Critical Myth. Copyright by BBC.

My mission to complete a chronological viewing of Doctor Who before the 50th anniversary continues. With the completion of season nine, I’m over halfway through the Pertwee era. Unfortunately, I’m not yet halfway through the classic series.

This season was the most location-diverse season yet for Pertwee, which is a plus. Unfortunately, I struggled to stay interested in some of these stories. However, there were some interesting ideas, specifically the idea that the Time Lords were starting to use the Doctor as an errand boy. This was an inspired idea and brought some diversity to the season. So, let’s get to it.

  1. Day of the Daleks by Louis Marks
    A renegade group from the future go up against the Doctor and UNIT in their attempt to assassinate a diplomat that they believe started a World War which left the Earth defenseless to a Dalek invasion.
    I saw the special edition of this story, which included new visual effects and re-dubbed Dalek voices. The changes were excellent and really enhanced the story. It was a great idea with some wonderful performances by the guest cast. Unfortunately, I found UNIT to be a bit bumbling at times. Have I mentioned that I miss the UNIT and Brigadier from season seven? This complaint aside, this is an enjoyable story and, at four episodes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
    My Rating: 3.5/5
  2. The Curse of Peladon by Brian Hayles
    Forced to visit Peladon by the Time Lords, the Doctor and Jo join a conference of delegates who are evaluating Peladon’s desire to join the Galactic Federation. Unfortunately, someone is trying to stymie the efforts of peace.
    I found this story to be a boring experience. For whatever reason, I could not get engaged. Maybe it was the bleak sets (well done, but the planet felt rather sparsely populated) or maybe it was Alpha Centauri’s grating voice. This story was tedium. It isn’t without its good moments, however. The Ice Warriors are in this story, but they are allies rather than villains. I loved this twist and enjoy the idea of the Doctor being prejudiced against a race that he has fought in the past, only to find they are valuable allies. I also enjoyed the Venusian Lullaby. Unfortunately, these elements were not enough to spark excitement for further Peladon stories.
    My Rating: 1.5/5
  3. The Sea Devils by Malcolm Hulke
    Despite being imprisoned, The Master has found a way to contact a colony of Sea Devils, an aquatic race of Silurians. Can the Doctor finally broker a peace between humanity and the Silurians?
    There were many things to like about this story: the setting was amazing, with lots of ocean shots and even a boat chase; excellent performances; the cooperation of the Royal Navy in filming; and the return of a fascinating race. Unfortunately, the main problem with this story is that it is essentially the same story as The Silurians. The main difference is the Master working as an antagonistic force to bring war between humanity and the Sea Devils. I wanted to like this story more than I did, but The Silurians already told this story, and it was arguably better and tighter. The Sea Devils just covered too much ground (so to speak) that we had already covered.
    My Rating: 3/5
  4. The Mutants by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
    On yet another mission for the Time Lords, the Doctor must deliver a container to someone on the planet Solos. The problem, he doesn’t know who. To make matters worse, Solos is about to be returned to its native people, an act that is strongly opposed by the Marshal of Skybase One.
    Did you get all that? This story is nothing if not ambitious and complex. This is a plus. There are some great ideas in this story and the apartheid allegory brings a bit of social commentary and substance to this story. Unfortunately, some of the performances are poor and the dialogue-heavy scenes feel slow and plodding. And at times, the ambition of the story is just out of reach of the production values. Make no mistake, the crew does the absolute best they can with the resources at their disposal. I found myself rooting for them and willing to forgive because, bless them, they were trying really hard. I think that is the biggest tragedy of The Mutants, it is a great script, stuffed with great ideas, and has a thought-provoking subtext, but is let down by a budget that just doesn’t quite make it, and a couple of poor performances. And it is just a bit too long.
    My Rating: 2.5/5
  5. The Time Monster by Robert Sloman
    The Master has reappeared as a professor in charge of the TOMTIT project, a project that theorizes the transportation of matter through time. But his real goal is to gain control over Kronos, a creature that feeds on time itself.
    The season ends on a high note for me. I loved this story. At no point did it take itself too seriously, and as a result, it was a lot of fun. The characters were well-written and performed, the story was fast-paced, and there was a genuine epic quality about it. The Master was at his best in this story. In some ways, this story felt like the equivalent of an RTD series-long-arc, but done in six, tight half-hour episodes. Plus, baby Benton may be my new favorite character. So long as you don’t want your Doctor Who super serious, this is a great story.
    My Rating: 4/5

Doctor Who – Season 8

Season 8 Cast. (Source: Den of Geek website. Copyright 2012 by BBC.)

I may not be writing longer reviews of each story or episode at the moment, but I’m doing my best to keep making my way through the classic series. My goal is to finish the classic series before the 50th anniversary. That sounds like something I could reasonably achieve.

A few days ago I finished Season 8, which marked Jon Pertwee’s second year as The Doctor. I’ve already reviewed some of the stories elsewhere. What I wish to do here is give a brief impression of each story, then a rating out of five.

  1. Terror of the Autons by Robert Holmes
    The Autons return, but this time they are being aided by a renegade Time Lord who calls himself “The Master.”
    Apart from the introduction of The Master, this story is basically a rehash of what we saw in season 7’s Spearhead from Space. The Autons just don’t seem that interesting, especially when paired with The Master, superbly played by Roger Delgado. Assistant Liz Shaw is abruptly replaced by Jo Grant. The Brigadier seems a bit thicker than when we last saw him. The UNIT cast is also rounded out by the addition of Captain Mike Yates. Overall, a decent beginning, but—apart from The Master—nothing terribly intriguing. Well, apart from the man who is smothered by a chair.
    My Rating: 2.5/5
  2. The Mind of Evil by Don Houghton
    During the World Peace Conference, The Master is plotting to spark a war with the aid of an alien creature that feeds on evil and fear.
    Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to watch this story, but I was able to listen to the audio recordings from AudioGo. I found the story to be intriguing and complex. While The Brigadier seemed again to be dumbed down, I found the alien in the prison to be an interesting idea, and the idea of a machine that would remedy “anti-social” behavior reminded me of A Clockwork Orange and certain episodes of Babylon 5. While I can’t speak for how this story looked, I did enjoy the audio.
    My Rating (of the audio): 3.5/5
  3. The Claws of Axos by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
    A group of aliens makes contact with UNIT. They want to trade technology for fuel. However, The Doctor remains suspicious.
    I found this story to be quite a bit of fun, from the irritating MP Chinn to the exploration of an organic ship (yes, I know it has been done in other sci-fi shows and books, but I loved seeing Doctor Who explore it). It was interesting to see The Master return (yet again), but still remained just plausible enough that he would be involved.
    My Rating: 4/5
  4. Colony in Space by Malcolm Hulke
    The Time Lords send The Doctor and Jo to the planet Uxarieus to foil a plot by The Master. While there, he must attempt to broker a peace between a colony of farmers and a mining corporation.
    Off world at last! I was so thrilled to be off Earth for this story; I loved every minute of it. I soaked it up! It is possible that I wouldn’t enjoy this story as if watching Doctor Who out of sequence, but in this broadcast order, I found this story quite satisfying. I also appreciate Hulke’s subtext about European colonization/Imperialism and the Native American population.
    My Rating: 4/5
  5. The Daemons by Guy Leopold
    The Master, posing as a vicar in the village of Devil’s End, seeks to summon an ancient alien who was the basis for demon mythologies.
    This story was a mixed-bag for me. I liked the idea of The Doctor, Jo, Mike, and Benton being separated from the rest of UNIT. I liked the idea of pagan ideas and images of demons being based on an ancient race. The first episode of this story had some good scares as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for the resolution, and by this point I felt The Master truly was growing old.
    My Rating: 3.5/5

So there we go. It got off to a rough start, but the season soon picked up. Characterization issues (and the lack of Liz Shaw) aside, I think it was a good follow-up to season seven. However, I still prefer the previous batch of stories. I think UNIT was treated better and I prefer Liz Shaw to Jo Grant.

I’m well in to season nine at the moment. I’ll update again when I finish.

Doctor Who Story 055: The Mind of Evil

Image Source: Big Finish.

I was finally able to listen to the BBC audio version of The Mind of Evil. I look forward to revisiting the story when it is eventually released on DVD. It was quite fun and quite exciting. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty figuring out what to say about it. So, I’ll ramble on a bit and call it good.

One of the elements of this story surrounds the Keller Machine, which is a device which drains evil impulses from the humans exposed to it. The Keller Machine was being tested and used on prisoners; in England the prison in question was Stangmoor Prison. It is an interesting idea, the elimination of the anti-social core of an individual and what that does to a person. It really is only touched upon in this story, which is a shame. A similar idea is explored in greater depth in a Babylon 5 episode. But even though The Mind of Evil doesn’t give a big treatise on identity or evil, at least it aspires to something; at least it tries to think about issues deeper than just action/adventure romp. Truth be told, The Mind of Evil was just the story I was hoping for after the excellent season 8, and the slight rehash of Terror of the Autons. I’m disappointed that this is his last story for Doctor Who. I’ve enjoyed both of his stories.

The Mind of Evil sees the return of The Master, and he is just as striking as he was in Terror. I enjoyed this dastardly plot, which involved The Master destabilizing relations at the World Peace Conference and attempting to steal a nuclear missile. There was enough going on to make a tight-packed six part story.

So, yeah, The Mind of Evil . . . good stuff.

 

Doctor Who Story 055 – Terror of the Autons

Story Recounted by Robert Holmes

There have been many stories involving a figure known as “The Master”. He tends to be a personal nemesis to The Doctor, setting himself apart from races such as The Daleks and The Cybermen. Terror of the Autons is one of the earliest incarnations of the rivalry between The Master and The Doctor. It is certainly the oldest in existence despite the claims of other stories to tell earlier tales of The Master, some positing a familial connection between the two men, others a life-long rivalry taken up after a broken friendship.

Some scholars debate the existence of the historical Master, believing The Master to be an evolving archetype in the mythology of The Doctor. They cite—in particular—the recurring elements of The Master from tales that occurred chronologically earlier. The figure of The Meddling Monk was a trickster of The Doctor’s race. A Master also appeared in The Land of Fiction. The War Chief was also a Time Lord who seemed to hire himself out to an alien race, in his case to help them develop better war strategies and technologies. Scholars who defend the historical Master tend to dismiss these theories of a developing archetype, insisting these other figures were separate individuals rather than evolving mythology.

It is, however, possible that the creation of The Master was inevitable. A strong hero tends to come with a specific, incarnational nemesis: Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty; Batman and The Joker; Coriolanus and Aufidius. These nemeses embody opposite concepts and philosophies, but in themselves are responses to the hero. The hero and villain are only separated by a thin line. They are opposite sides of the same coin, so to speak. Into this duality step The Doctor and The Master.

What is fascinating in this earliest story is how dismissive The Doctor is of his nemesis. There is the impression that the two have not yet met, although are aware of one another. In some ways, the Time Lords can’t be bothered to deal with each other. The other merely presents an interesting challenge, albeit an inconsequential one. They enjoy hunting one another. The attacks, however, do seem to grow more personal as the story progresses. This escalation may show in future stories.

As for the story itself, it continues from Spearhead from Space, yet lacks the emotional punch of that story. The loss of Liz Shaw is a disappointment and Jo Grant has yet to prove an interesting replacement. The Brigadier seems to have lost a bit of fire that was present in the previous stories. He doesn’t seem as interested in challenging The Doctor as he once did, and when he does, it  is usually due to sheer bone-headedness.

In sum, Terror of the Autons fails to live up to the high standard set by Spearhead from Space, The Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, and Inferno. While an enjoyable story (and quite short), it lacks the depth of previous ones.

Doctor Who Story 054 – Inferno (and Excuses)

Story by Don Houghton
Directed by Douglas Camfield

Somewhere in the last few weeks I forgot to review Inferno. I watched it with my wife, but I never got around to reviewing it. Work got busy; I set up a new blog about Stephen King; you know, the usual excuses. So I apologize for my negligence. Besides, I can’t start watching Terror of the Autons until I have a few thoughts about Inferno posted here.

Source: Amazon.com. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

From the DVD: A top secret drilling project headed by Professor Stahlman is attempting to penetrate the earth’s crust, and the Doctor and Liz Shaw are on hand to observe. Tensions and professional jealousies plague the project, but things really heat up when a mysterious green substance is found leaking from the drill head. Just when UNIT needs the Doctor most, a time experiment throws him into a parallel universe where everyone he knows has changed for the worse.

This story wraps up the rather successful series seven. What better way to end a season than to destroy an alternate earth! I tell you, Don Houghton was decades ahead of RTD where over-the-top finales are concerned!

All kidding aside, Inferno was an excellent story with great pace, genuine chills, and quite a bit of heady sci-fi concepts. This was a seven part story that was stuffed full of ideas. While the monsters seem a bit arbitrary, at least they keep the tension going and provide us with a few good chase scenes. Choosing to let The Doctor see the consequences of Stahlman’s drilling via alternate universe was a fun idea. We get to see the world destroyed and we get to see the Doctor save it. Having our cake and whatnot.

Highlights

  • Fascist UNIT was an interesting concept. Keeping with the idea that these are the same characters who developed differently due to different choices and circumstances, Liz has a good and noble core to her. The Doctor is able to appeal to her sympathies and scientific sensibilities. The Brigade Leader, however, seems to be a lost cause.
  • All the characters were very-well written and portrayed. The antagonism between Stahlman and Sir Keith was wonderful. Christopher Benjamin (who portrayed Sir Keith) is always a pleasure to watch.
  • Excellent story all-round

Low Point

  • I’m not opposed to the monsters, but I don’t really know why there was a green slime that turned people into wolves. Something more could have been done with this.

Final Verdict: Inferno was a lot of fun. I watched it with my wife; she was captivated! A great end to a truly great season.

Source: TARDIS Newsroom web site. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death Part 7, Wrap-Up

Source: Amazon.com. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Having written about the six preceding episodes, I don’t feel I have much to add. The story was an interesting—and to me, uneven—mix of action, spy-fi, and intrigue. It didn’t feel as tight as The Silurians, despite sharing an author; to be fair, however, Malcolm Hulke was brought in partway through. I think the shift between three writers is probably the biggest problem with this story. As no one writer had complete control in shaping the vision of the story, it was a collision of styles and voices.

That said, the underlying story is good. I wouldn’t mind more stories in Doctor Who that attempt to do what this one and The Silurians did.

Highlights:

  • Malcolm Hulke proved with The Silurians he has a strong grasp of character, and that strength is still in play here. The leads interact well. Professor Cornish is a strong leader, concerned for his astronauts above all else; General Carrington is wonderfully portrayed as a man with strong beliefs acting out of a genuine, yet flawed, concern for the planet. Even Reegan is a fascinating, fully fleshed-out thug. He could have easily been a cliché, but he has his own motives for the aliens. The characters really help this story along when it loses its pace.
  • As mentioned before, the story itself is good. I look forward to seeing how it was novelized and whether it was tightened up any in book form.

Lowlights:

  • Once more, the pace was uneven. There were some good action scenes and side-by-side with some rather dull mission control sequences. Perhaps this story, if it had a little more lead time (something that I’m sure was virtually impossible) and could have gone through another draft, probably would have ironed out some of the kinks.

Final Verdict: While I would say that The Ambassadors of Death is, for me, the weakest of the season seven stories, I wish to emphasize that I feel, in no way, that this is a bad story. So far, with only one story left (which I shall be writing about as a whole rather than episodically), season seven has been a successful revitalization of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death, Part 6

Masks off! (Source: Radio Free Skaro – The Chronic Hysteresis. Copyright 1970 by the BBC,)

As episodes go, I think this one is the most even. It is certainly my favorite so far. We get final confirmation of what has been happening all along. Alien ambassadors have been kidnapped by humans and the astronauts are being held prisoner until their return. The Doctor, finally having all the necessary pieces of the puzzle, can now work toward a resolution. This is good stuff.

Once more, the aliens are not necessarily evil. At this point, we don’t know if the aliens were hoping to make peaceful contact with Earth or not, but the fact that ambassadors are involved means some attempt at negotiation. The aliens haven’t responded with violence, merely taking hostages of their own. They have not, however, eliminated the possibility of violence, as they tell The Doctor that they will destroy the planet if their people are not returned.

While there is not an actual invasion happening, the threat of invasion is what is driving General Carrington. It seems he was behind the abduction of both the aliens and Liz. He fears the alien ship is an invasion force and is reacting accordingly. He is being driven by fear and what he feels is best for the country he is trying to protect. It just a shame he got things so wrong.

So, the story has really picked up—for me—in the end. I’m looking forward to the resolution.

Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death, Part 5

Source: Adventures with The Wife in Space website. Copyright 1970 by the BBC.

Benton!

I’m not sure why I like Sgt. Benton so much. Perhaps it is because John Levene seems like such a nice guy. Perhaps it is due to his inclusion in the Tom Baker debut Robot. Benton seems to represent a regular support cast; he conveys what has been termed “The UNIT Family”. A support cast is new for Doctor Who. These are the days before we had Jackie Tyler or Craig. Old friends are a new thing because until this point we did not return to the same place twice. Things are quite different now.

What strikes me most about Ambassadors at this point is that there is more action. Ambassadors seems to draw a significant amount of inspiration from James Bond. The show is adapting and evolving. In some ways, it has moved quite some way from its origin. While I don’t dislike what they are doing with the show, it is still very different. So far, the stories have been good enough that I don’t mind.

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death, Part 4

This entire story seems an exercise in decompressed storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good story buried in here, one in which humans have kidnapped a group of radioactive aliens. The humans are developing a way to exploit these deadly aliens, to use them for their own nefarious ends. The problem is, at the current pace, I’m not sure the story needed to be seven parts long.

Granted, I’m making this criticism in 2012. Television probably didn’t work that way in England in 1970. Most-likely, the producer set an episode count and ordered a story. It would then be up to the writer to meet the episode number. With the writing issues of this story, it probably isn’t a big surprise that the pace is occasionally glacial. Still, this story could be tightened to great effect.

At least it is different, though. This isn’t an alien invasion; it is a covert group using alien prisoners as weapons. This is a great idea to explore, especially as it has the potential to become somewhat personal for The Doctor. He is trapped against his will. He has fallen in with an international military organization. He could very easily become a weapon. Thankfully, The Brigadier offers him a certain degree of autonomy, but if he had fallen into different hands, The Doctor’s fate could have been quite different.

Three episodes to go.